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All four of the abalone shell middens returned dates from similar ranges, from 10,900 to 12,100 years ago.Santa Rosa’s ancient inhabitants also left behind a number of unusual crescent-shaped tools made of chipped stone, artifacts similar to those found throughout the Great Basin, typically near water, but whose exact purpose, Rick said, was “a topic of debate.” “People have speculated from everything like hunting to even brain surgery — a bizarre 100-year-old idea,” he said. would have been used to hunt aquatic birds and possibly other fauna.” [Read about another unusual find in California: “Mass Grave of ‘Prodigal Sons’ in California Poses Prehistoric Mystery“] One sign absent from any of the newly discovered sites, however, was evidence of construction.

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Upon surveying the area, the team found 19 sites that showed signs of human occupation, mostly middens, or piles of detritus left over from generations of tool making and food preparation.

Although they were essentially prehistoric trash piles, these middens offered a wealth of useful archaeological clues, some deposits covering more than 75,000 square meters (over 18 acres).

Torben Rick of the Smithsonian Institution, who led the survey that uncovered the sites.

The discovery adds hefty new data to the already mounting evidence that maritime Paleoindians — also known as Paleocoastal peoples — lived along the California coast at the end of the last ice age.

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At least nine of the sites have what archaeologists say is “definitive evidence” of ancient Paleoindian occupation, about half of them having been dated to 11,000 to 12,000 years ago — making their inhabitants some of the earliest known settlers of North America’s West Coast.

“Finding these sites and the definitive evidence for early occupation is crucial and tells us that people were there, occupying the landscape at the end of the Pleistocene,” said Dr.

Nine of the these sites contained the distinctive Channel Island barbed stone points that are indicative of Paleocoastal culture from the late Ice Age, Rick reported, and several also contained caches of shells from red abalone — a staple food of Paleocoastal Indians.

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